When you assess the Nationals’ roster, there are a handful of needs which will have to be addressed this offseason.
There’s obviously the Adam LaRoche situation, which will determine who will man first base for the next two or three seasons and also will end up impacting Michael Morse and the starting left field job.
There’s a need for a fifth starter, now that Edwin Jackson is unlikely to return and John Lannan appears likely to be non-tendered.
There are bullpen spots that have to be addressed, primarily with the left-handers who were on the team in 2012. Sean Burnett and Michael Gonzalez are free agents, and Tom Gorzelanny could be traded or non-tendered given his increasing salary.
There’s plenty of work for general manager Mike Rizzo and his staff to do when it comes to trying to upgrade the roster going into next season.
But one facet could be pretty much set for 2013 even with the calendar still reading 2012, and that’s the Nationals’ bench.
Assuming the Nats go with the standard five-man bench next season, they might already have the five they’ll go with currently in place.
Steve Lombardozzi proved that he’s capable of handling an everyday role in the major leagues after hitting .273 and playing strong defense, but for now, he’ll be the Nationals’ backup middle infielder behind Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. Lombardozzi also showed that in a pinch, he can be counted on to play left field, a position he learned on the job in 2012.
Chad Tracy (the ringleader of the so-called “Goon Squad”) was one of the feel-good stories of 2012, running with a minor league deal in spring training and earning a spot on the opening day roster. Tracy provided left-handed pop to a bench that previously was lacking in that area, and delivered a number of big hits throughout the course of the season. He impressed the Nationals so much that they rewarded the 32-year-old who played the 2011 season in Japan with a one-year major league deal for 2013.
The Nats will also return both Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore, two guys who could lock down the reserve outfield positions. Bernadina is coming off a big season in which he finally started to realize his potential. The speedy outfielder hit .291 (more than 40 points better than his previous career high), had a .372 on-base percentage (65 points better than his previous career high) and made a handful of dazzling defensive plays. He still frustrates at times by getting poor reads on balls and making mental mistakes, but Bernadina improved by leaps and bounds this season.
Moore came on the scene and wowed the Nationals and their fans with his raw power, ability to acclimate to a new level of play and quickly learn a new defensive position. The 25-year-old could very well be in line for a starting job sometime in the near future, but at the very least, the Nats have a backup first baseman/corner outfielder and a right-handed power hitter to complement Tracy’s pop from the left side.
There are other guys within the organization to watch, like outfielders Corey Brown and Eury Perez, infielders Chris Marrero and Carlos Rivero, and catchers Johnatan Solano and Sandy Leon. In addition, Rizzo will surely add a few free agents to minor league deals to improve the depth within the organization and help create competition during spring training.
Of course, nothing’s for certain in this league. We could also see Rizzo go out and upgrade the bench by bringing in a more polished corner outfielder. He could look to trade Bernadina or Moore and capitalize on their strong 2012 campaigns. Injuries always threaten to throw a wrench into plans, as well.
But for now, the Nats appear to have five bench guys in place for 2013, giving them a well-rounded mix of guys who provide power, speed and some defensive ability from both sides of the plate.